In Depth

Bank of England says jobs are at risk from robots

Chief economist warns that the rise of AI could spark a Fourth Industrial Revolution, putting thousands out of work

The Bank of England has issued a warning that thousands of jobs may be at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

Andy Haldane, the bank’s chief economist, told the BBC that the rapid growth of AI development would make many jobs “obsolete”. It could also spawn a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” that would be on a “far greater scale” than the first one of the Victorian era.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning, Haldane said: “Each of those [industrial revolutions] had a wrenching and lengthy impact on the jobs market, on the lives and livelihoods of large swathes of society”.

He said that the next Industrial Revolution could feature AI-powered machines capable of “thinking and doing”. These would replace “both the cognitive and the technical skills of humans.”

Haldane’s comments reflect the predictions of several tech experts, the Huffington Post says. The most common belief is that AI will have the most significant impact on manual jobs, while occupations involving more human interaction may be the least affected.

But not everyone agrees. Leslie Willcocks, a professor at the London School of Economics, told the news site that the move to greater automation in the workplace could be beneficial for employees. 

He said that companies that use AI for “monotonous” roles could then place workers in “more interesting” and “rewarding” positions. 

Meanwhile, a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) earlier this year claimed that fears over AI replacing thousands of jobs were “overblown”, the Financial Times reports. 

The OECD argues that occupations are significantly harder to automate than previous studies have predicted, the FT adds. 

In either situation, Haldane suggests the best course of action is for employers to create more roles that cannot be fulfilled by AI. 

He concluded: “We will need even greater numbers of new jobs to be created in the future, if we are not to suffer this longer-term feature called technological unemployment”. 

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